The last time I took to a stage was when I was about 9 years old. I don’t remember what the play was, just one of those school plays that we were expected to take part in as a portion of our learning experience. One that was supposed to be fun and rewarding. As we grow older, we learn that if someone must tell us that something is supposed to be fun and rewarding, we should probably turn and run as fast as we can in the opposite direction. For this person, we shall learn, just wishes to use us to justify their existence and will use us in whatever capacity they see fit to accomplish their goals.
I was one of the chosen ones. I was doubly chosen, as it was decided that I needed to be placed in a more prominent role due to the fact that I would get lost in the crowd if I was not. Plus, my mother made it known that I had taken both ballet and tap dance lessons. Another of those cruel jokes played on children whose parents are intent on molding their child into their personal fantasy design. I didn’t mind the tap lessons so much though; shoes that make clickety-clack noises are quite fun and give you a perfectly legitimate excuse to be a noisy annoyance to the parent that forces you to these lessons when you would rather be collecting frogs and snakes. She was later to add insult to injury by forcing me to take modelling lessons as well. But, I held true in disappointing her from even a young age. I was never able to transform into the next Shirley Temple, I was never to become the next Miss America and I never married a doctor. I was a complete let down! However, all of this was sufficient to impress the mistress of the play into placing me into this prime role on the stage.
I was a tiny wisp of a thing back then. Truth be told, I was the smallest kid in the school, including the kindergartners. My sole dream going into high school was that I would break the five foot mark. Which I did in my final year there. Well, there went wish number one! I am sure they understood that I was quite small when they ordered the costumes for the big night. I guess they just underestimated just how very small I was.
I studied my part, my class becoming a daily rehearsal, setting aside studies and it wasn’t long till I was utterly and hopelessly bored! I went through the motions, watching the clock each afternoon for the minutes to click off so I could make my escape and wander the wilderness outside, a creature of the wild, explorer, seeking out new specimens to take back for further investigation. When I arrived at the home base, I buried myself into the pile of books far more to my interest than required lessons of the day, at least those that weren’t suspended for the “Great Play”.
The big night arrived and we gathered in the auditorium, back behind the curtains where we were handed the packages with our names on them, till all held a soft paper wrapped bundle in their arms. Then the boys were sent towards one room, the girls to another to change into the “wonderful costumes” we were so “lucky” to have had made just for us that night. Paper began to rip, strips and pieces flying haphazardly through the air, more for the sheer fun of shredding and tossing than was necessary to reach the contents. One by one, each stepped out of their day clothes and transformed magically into the character they were to assume. I began to slip into my own outfit. A princess-like dress and saw the concerned look on my teacher’s face as I tried to hold it up over my shoulders, skirt trailing till it formed a small pool of fabric at my feet.
It seems they were way off in their assumption at just how small I was! After quite some time of trying to fuss and pin the dress, it was obvious that nothing was going to quite work to make this mass of fabric conform to my body. I graciously offered to allow one of the other students take my place. The truth was that I never really wanted to be a part of this display. But, this would not be considered. I had been chosen, and I would perform. That was all there was to it! They would come up with a solution.
And so, the search began. Pieces of clothing were plucked from this corner, from that pile, dredged up from trunks and a myriad of mysterious places. “Here, try this on. No, that won’t do, try this one!” I don’t remember how many things I pulled off, put on, pulled off before the nightmare appeared! Some light colored stretch top was handed to me. A leotard, I believe, which was a bit loose fitting, though it was deemed it would do. Then I was handed a pink net atrocity someone had managed a drawstring tie into to form a waistband. This torture device was cinched tightly about my waist, brambles and thorns, all infused deeply with the oil of poison oak! They turned me around between them and decreed that it would just have to do, ignoring my loud protests of how it scratched and itched and told to make the best of it, there was no choice in the matter! We were all then herded together and bustled us out the door toward the stage.
The night became a trip into hell itself as the skirt bit into the skin on my stomach and back, itching so badly I wanted to tear my skin off with the the infernal drapery. My hands were slapped as I tried to ease the contact to my skin and strong admonishments that I must ignore it and just live with it and do my part.
That was probably the longest night of my young life. How I made it through the ordeal, I have no memory of it. To this day, I still cannot remember what the play was of, what my role was or even a single word I had committed to memory for recital. I know that I did indeed make it through the entire thing, for what is etched permanently in my memory was the finale where we all approached the edge of the stage to take our bows after the applause, and bow again at the next wave of applause.
I remember so well, because it was at that last wave that I knew I had done my duty. I had played the role. I had suffered the agony. My obligation was over and I would be free of my restraints. I headed to the edge of the stage as my peers headed to the side, calling to me as they were leaving. With each step, I loosened the ties at my back till they split and the pile of net crumpled to the floor, left only in the little top and my panties. I jumped free of the folds and kicked the wad as far away from me as I could, never hearing the laughter from the other children or parents as I made my escape from the stage and down the aisle.
I was far too relieved to be free to consider being embarrassed at my exposure. Too angry at the indignation of the bramble skirt to hear the shouts of anger and disappointment from my mother. My father’s silence during the drive home, trying to hide the smile on his face, my one ally at the end of the tunnel. My mother’s “humiliation” meant nothing. I was free. I told her I would never step on a stage again. And I never did.